Figure

Memory for the Challenger explosion as a function of whether the event upset the participants, the extent of rehearsal, and the retention interval. Based on data in Bohannon (1988).

• Consequences of the event for the individual.

Brown and Kulik's (1977) central point was that flashbulb memories are very different from other memories in their longevity, accuracy, and reliance on a special neural mechanism. This view is controversial. Flashbulb memories may be remembered clearly because they have been rehearsed frequently, rather than because of the processing that occurred when learning about the dramatic event. Another problem is checking on the accuracy of reported flashbulb memories. At one time, Neisser (1982) was convinced he was listening to a baseball game on the radio when he heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. However, the bombing took place in December, which is not in the baseball season. In fact, he was almost certainly listening to an American football game, but the location of the match and the names of the teams involved were suggestive of a baseball game.

Bohannon (1988) tested people's memory for the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger two weeks or eight months afterwards. Recall fell from 77% at the short retention interval to 58% at the long retention interval, suggesting that flashbulb memories are forgotten in the same way as ordinary memories. However, long-term memory was best when the news had caused a strong emotional reaction, and the event had been rehearsed several times (see Figure 8.4).

Conway et al. (1994) refused to accept that flashbulb memories are simply stronger versions of ordinary memories. According to them, the participants in the study by Bohannon (1988) may not have regarded the explosion of Challenger as having consequences for their lives. If they did not, one of the main criteria for flashbulb memories proposed by Brown and Kulik (1977) was not fulfilled.

Conway et al. (1994) studied flashbulb memories for the resignation of Mrs Thatcher in 1990. This event was regarded as surprising and consequential by most British people, and so should theoretically have produced flashbulb memories. Memory for this event was tested within a few days, after 11 months, and

Memory for the Challenger explosion as a function of whether the event upset the participants, the extent of rehearsal, and the retention interval. Based on data in Bohannon (1988).

after 26 months. Flashbulb memories were found in 86% of British participants after 11 months, compared to 29% in other countries. Conway et al. (1994, pp. 337- 338) concluded: "The striking finding of the present study was the high incidence of very detailed memory reports provided by the U.K. subjects, which remained consistent over an 11-month retention interval and, for a smaller group, over a 26-month retention interval."

Wright and Gaskell (1995, p. 70) pointed out that "The only study that has found a high percentage of subjects reporting what can realistically be considered memories that differ from ordinary memories investigated memories for Margaret Thatcher's resignation (Conway et al., 1994)". Wright, Gaskell, and O'Muircheartaigh (1998) carried out a large population survey in England about 18 months after Mrs Thatcher's resignation, and found that only 12% of those sampled remembered the event vividly. The fact that Conway et al. (1994) used a student sample may help to explain the high percentage of flashbulb memories they reported.

Theory

Conway et al. (1994) argued that flashbulb memories depend on three main processes plus one optional process:

1. Prior knowledge: this aids in relating the event to existing memory structures.

2. Personal importance: the event should be perceived as having great personal relevance.

3. Surprise and emotional feeling state: the event should produce an emotional reaction.

4. Overt rehearsal: this is an optional process (some people with flashbulb memories for Mrs Thatcher's resignation had not rehearsed the event). However, rehearsal was generally strongly linked to the existence of flashbulb memories.

Finkenauer et al. (1998) put forward an emotional-integrative model. This extended Conway et al.'s (1994) model by adding the factors of novelty of the event and the individual's affective attitude towards the central person or individuals in the event. They studied flashbulb memories of the unexpected death of the Belgian king Baudouin. Those whose affective attitude towards the royal family was one of strong sympathy were most likely to experience flashbulb memories.

Finkenauer et al. (1998, p. 526) emphasised the fact that their model and that of Conway et al. (1994) agreed on many of the key variables: "(1) the reaction of surprise upon learning about the original event, (2) the appraisal of importance or consequentiality of the original event, (3) an intense emotional feeling state, and (4) rehearsal". However, all these factors can be involved in the formation of any memory. This led them to the following conclusion: "FBMs [flashbulb memories] are the result of ordinary memory mechanisms. However, the great number of details constituting FBMs, their clarity, and their durability suggest that a particularly efficient encoding took place" (p. 530).

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